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Wednesday, November 27, 2019

PREVIEW: 2019-2020 Highlands Boys Basketball

Bluebirds Hope to Prove They're Not a One-Hit Wonder

PHOTO: Dale Dawn. Highlands junior guard Sam Vinson (20) goes up for a shot against Newport last year. Vinson is the lone starter returning from last year's 20-12 squad.
The Highlands Bluebirds boys basketball team put together its best season since the 2008-09 season last year.

The Bluebirds recorded a 20-12 mark reaching that win total for the first time since that season and made it to the 9th Region Tournament for the first time since 2014. Highlands also snapped a number of long losing streaks to a number of region opponents in Newport Central Catholic, Covington Holmes, Dixie Heights, Covington Catholic and Covington Holy Cross.

Barre3 Ft. Thomas. Located at 90 Alexandria Pike. 
The Bluebirds rallied past host NewCath, 57-53 in the 36th District semifinals to start the postseason. But after that, Highlands could not pull off the first district championship since 2008 losing 64-61 to Newport in the district title game before dropping a 47-37 decision to Cooper in the 9th Region quarterfinals. The last region win for the Bluebirds came in 2009.

Highlands graduated nine seniors from that team including four starters. Power forward Ben Sisson took his talents to Kentucky Wesleyan University. The other eight are guards Ryan Leigh, Jack Hegge, forwards Austin King, Grady Cramer, wings Tristan Thompson, Alex Starkey, Nate Roberts and power forward Will Salmon. The Bluebirds graduated more than 82 percent of the scoring off that team.

Seventh-year Highlands Head Coach Kevin Listerman admitted the Bluebirds should take steps back on paper. But he's glad the team has the lone returning starter from last year in junior guard Sam Vinson and senior guards Jacob Brass and Hunter Ahlfeld to rely on early in the season as the most experience returning from last year. Vinson averaged just under 10 points per game last year.

"I think we can do better than last year. Last year, we had one of the best records we've had in a while," Ahlfeld said. "This summer, we played great. We played scrimmages this week and we were dominating every team we were playing so I think we'll do well this year."

Three other players dressed on varsity last year. They are senior post Jack Delagrange, junior forward Luke Muller and sophomore guard Zach Barth. The Highlands junior varsity team finished 15-8 last year and the freshman team finished 18-6.

"With this group, the way that they work is the most impressive thing from the end of our season last year to where we are today," Listerman said. "Our group has really put in a ton of time and they've done it on their own. It's been player-initiated, which has made it fun. They're a great group of young men to be around they have a very high competitive nature. We're counting on that to carry us through."

Muller stands 6-feet and 5.5-inches. Two other posts listed on the varsity roster are junior Bryson Cody and sophomore Oliver Harris.

"I'm going to have to play smart defense in the post. As the tallest player, I'm going to have to guard all the (opposing) tallest players," Muller said. "They're going to be stronger than me most of the time because I'm used to playing three guard. We're not deep with size in the post. It's just me and a couple other guys. We're going to have to use our athleticism to keep (opponents) outside the post so they can't get use deep enough to where it's an advantage to them."

Listerman said he likes the team's ability to shoot three-pointers and spread out opponents. The other guards listed on the roster are juniors Daniel Buchanan, Evan Rom, sophomores Austin Duncan, Abe Hils, Cole Kocher, Isaac Surrey and freshmen William Herald and Coby Kramer.

"A lot of that has to do with the off-season and what we're able to get done in June to give our guys a lot of game experience," Listerman said. "We also know it's going to be a learning curve. At times, some guys with little to no varsity experience are going to be on the floor. We understand that and the kids understand that."

Highlands outscored opponents, 1,956-1,726 for averages of just more than 61 to just under 54 points per game last year. The Bluebirds made 270-of-522 shots for just under 52 percent including 61-of-163 three-point tries for just more than 37 percent. They also made 132-of-208 free throws for between 63 and 64 percent.

The Covington Catholic Colonels have won the region the past two years and captured a state championship in 2018. The Colonels also won state in 2014.

People are ready to hand the region tournament title to CovCath again. The Colonels list 10 players at 6-3 and above with the tallest one being 7-1 in senior center Noah Hupmann. But CovCath knows the title has to be earned once again.

"The mark of a good program is being consistent year after year after year and that's what we're striving for. We really can't worry about what's going on with the rest of the region," Listerman said. "There are some really good teams out there. Obviously, CovCath went out and got whatever they needed. Beechwood has a lot coming back. St. Henry has a lot coming back. Cooper is always going to be good so we know we're going to have to play well night-in and night-out. Hopefully, we get to March and we're playing late in the tournament."

Highlands opens the season with five home games. The first one is Dec. 3 against Ryle at 7:30 p.m.

The Hoops for Hunger event takes place on Nov. 27 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. The teams will be introduced. The entry fee is just two canned goods.

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